It is a foggy morning in April - which means that the sun will have burned off the mist by lunchtime and turn a dull late winters day into a bright early spring one. The Mudhoppers decided that enough mud has been hopped upon and, for a change, we will find some sand that we can get between our toes. The met office confirms that the day will warm up greatly by one o'clock so we head through the mist toward Studland. Here not only can we enjoy the fresh sea air but we have the added bonus of being able to do so naked.
To get to Studland involves crossing the entrance to Poole Harbour on a chain ferry from the Sandbanks Peninsula. Sandbanks is most noted these days for its property prices, six or seven bedroom homes costing anything up to £8 million (and rising). Last year a 5 year old property was acquired by a Russian businessman who liked the location but needed one additional bedroom than the house boasted - so he had the place demolished and it is currently being rebuilt with one extra room. The bloke spent £5m on the property and will have spent a further £5m by the time the new one is completed. Such properties are not set into massive acres of land, proberly no more than the combined space occupied by a pair of 1960s semi-detached council houses, but the location is now the 4th most expensive place on the planet to buy a house. And just a few minutes ferry ride from this display of unimaginable wealth lies Studland, mile upon mile of unspoilt and unique countryside which no amount of money could buy.
The uniqueness of Studland is in the wildness of the landscape. Situated at the western end of Poole Bay, the sea meets a wide sandy beach uncluttered with the trappings of a "seaside resort". Beyond the beach are sand dunes, rather than a promenade of amusement arcades and ice cream or fish and chips parlours. The dunes cover a narrow band that in turn becomes heathland, a vast expanse of heather dotted with marshes -"quags" as they are called in this part of the world. The backdrop to all of this is the high chalk cliffs beyond Studland village which stretch inland as the Purbeck hills. Today we are following the shoreline from where the ferry lands us at the slipway towards the village-a good hour or so's walk each way. The first part of this walk will take us along Shell Bay, so called for the great number of sea shells which get washed ashore here. Being so close to the ferry it is a beach which gets quite crowded during the summer, and where bathers are swimming and playing in the sea just a few hundred yards away from the deep water lanes where cross-channel ferries sail in and out of the harbour.
At the end of Shell Bay Studland Bay starts its long sweep around to Old Harry Rocks, today lost in the mist. A quick glance skywards convinces us that the sun is indeed starting to burn this away. This stretch of coastline has much history to it, the two most notable involving battles. One of these was a brilliant example of people power, the other a bit of military history which beggars belief. This latter was during WWII, just prior to the D-Day landings in France. Realising that Studland Bay very closely resembled the Normandy coastline and beaches they decided to use the place for a practice run before the main event. So far, so good: it makes a lotof sense as and when invasions of enemy held territory are deemed necessary. But somewhere along the line some bright spark in the war office came up with a mind- bogglingly stupid idea of subjecting our own troops to live fire during the course of this rehearsal. Apparantly the thinking behind this strategy was that it would make the poor buggars who were taking part aware of what the Jerries were going to do to them on the day. And it also must have been just as harrowing for the troops behind the triggers-knowing that they were loosing off bullets and shells at their own side. Then, after the event which was observed by The King, Churchill, Eisenhower and a few others from the safety of a bunker, the top brass decided that putting their own troops under fire "proberly hadnt been necessary". Just think of the money they could have saved if they had asked the troops their opinion of the idea before the event.
About thirty years on from the above another, somewhat more subtle, battle took place-namely the naturists vs the authorities. At that time Studland beach was very little used, mainly due to it only being accessible on foot and a fair walk from the nearest place to park a car. This huge deserted stretch of beach, not overlooked by any properties, was seen as the perfect place by the nudists to use as their own. Nudity being then, as now to a lesser extent, something of a highly contentious issue. This inevitably caused outrage in some quarters. Despite the fact that it was happening out of the public eye, by folk who would quickly cover themselves when they saw members of the general public approaching, it was illegal and therefore had to be stamped upon. But the problem for those who would wish to stop the nude sunbathers is that, in view of the isolated position of the beach, it was impossible to catch them with their trousers down, so to speak. By the time the boys in blue reached the beach, having been spotted coming a mile off, the nudists were clothed. Finally, with no other option open to the powers that be, the area was designated as an "official" naturist beach.
This did bring its own problems-pervs. Once news started spreading that people were using Studland Beach to sunbathe nude the dirty raincoat brigade began to hide themselves in the sand-dunes. From this point, binoculars in hand, they would spend hours looking at people with no clothes on. Sad but true. Unfortunately some of these people thought that the liberal attitude shown toward the naturists meant that Studland was a sexual free-for-all area: there were soon cases being heard in the local courts concerning indecent behaviour in the dunes. Fortunately, and sensibly, this problem was dealt with as a seperate issue to the use of the beach by bona-fide naturists, (which no doubt pissed off one member of the local council. This individual later admitted that the only reason he had supported the moves to make the beach an "official" naturist one was to then use the inevitable "perv problem" as an excuse to stop the activities of the nudists on the beach completely, a sort of divide-and-conqueor policy)
Today, with thirty years of use, Studland Beach is now fully accepted as a mixed use beach. With signposts at each end of the designated area warning the unwary that naturists may be encountered, and outside of the perv community (whose activities have been seriously curtailed by the establishing of a police station in Studland village, specificaly to keep the area well patrolled), families, both naturists and non naturist, walkers and equestrians all mingle on the beach quite happily- which is exactly how it should be: a good example of the "live and let live" philosophy in action. With the fog still surrounding us, however, we are keeping our clothes well and truly on-until the forecasted sunny afternoon breaks through.
The walk around the Bay eventually brings us into Studland village, unspoilt and clinging to the side of a hill. Here we find the aforementioned police station (pictured) tiny and thatched. On the clifftop stands Fort Henry, the 90 foot long bunker from where the D-Day rehearsal was observed by the King, top brass, and war leaders. It is possible to go inside, whch you may want to do but only once out of curiosity. It's a spooky place, though not dark inside it has a strange and uncomfortable feel to it. Just outside of one of the entrances is a memorial stone to the troops killed during the practise run when their Valentine tank (which was a semi-submersible model also known as a "swimming" tank ) sank after being launched from a landing craft. Just beyong Fort Henry the clifftop path leads to the part of the village where the Norman Church (though there is still evidence of the original Saxon church still visible) stands. This rugged little building has some wonderful glimpses of "hidden history" around it-not least in the carvings to be seen around the corbels. They depict carnal sins and before suffering at the hands of the iconoclasts would have been a much more graphic display than any thing that the pervs in the nearby sand dunes could come up with. Even after a combination of the wilful destruction and centuries of weathering there is still evidence that though nowadays some women may complain that many men do not know where to find a clitoris, the stonemasons who produced these carvings certainly did. We have no doubt that some discoveries did get lost ever the centuries.
This church also has a bricked-up North door, something that can occasionaly still be clearly seen in the early churches. This practise came about due to the buildings being erected at a time when christianity first came to these shores and co-existed quite happily alongside followers of the native pagan religions. Eventually christianity took more of a hold, usually by forcing it's beliefs and festivals upon the community and paganism was driven underground. At this time churches would have doors in both the South and the North walls and it soon became apparent to the clergy that folk who still adhered to the Old Religion would use the North door of a church-the North being where the Earth Goddess and Gods reside. So eventually these doors were bricked up in order to further deny the populace the right to worship as they chose.
By now it is early afternoon and the sun and the fog have obviously not read the weather forecast-or, if they have, they are ignoring it. There is no sign of the bright sunshine which we hoped to take advantage of during the afternoon. No matter, there will be sunny days to come and Studland beach will still be there to welcome our naked bits. In the meantime we retrace our steps to the ferry along Studland beach laughing occasionaly at the pervs who, pointlessly considering the coldness of the mist, are hding in the sand dunes and popping their heads up (like so many merecats) in the hope of seeing a naked body.